WILMINGTON, N.C. — From movies like “Dirty Dancing” to “Talladega Nights,” North Carolina has been the backdrop for many films. “Blue Velvet,” “Scream” and “Iron Man 3” were all shot in Wilmington, a city that’s been dubbed “Wilmywood.” 

Wilmywood will soon be opening its doors to its newest independent cinema, The Velvet Room, a theater that will help highlight the history of Wilmington’s vibrant film industry.

What You Need To Know

  • The Velvet Room Cinema and Bar will play cult favorites, foreign and silent films, and Wilmington productions
  • Behind The Velvet Room will be The Hideaway Lounge, a 1920s Prohibition-themed speakeasy where customers can have a drink, relax and discuss a good film
  • The Velvet Room is expected to be open within months 

Ian Simpson loves movies and says he watches around five to seven a week. It’s been a passion since he was a kid.

Anthony Durret, left, and Ian Simpson (Spectrum News 1/Natalie Mooney)

“You know, I grew up watching Hitchcock at a young age because my mom loved to show me the old ‘Alfred Hitchcock Presents’ show and ‘The Twilight Zone’ and it moved into watching a bunch of Hitchcock and then a broad range of films,” Simpson said. “It’s just something I’ve always been interested in and a dream of mine of opening a movie theatre.”

Now, Simpson’s dreams are coming true.

He’s opening The Velvet Room Cinema and Bar with his partner Anthony Durret. The theater will play cult favorites, foreign and silent films and even Wilmington productions.

Simpson says he hopes The Velvet Room can showcase some of the area’s iconic film history. It’s that history that makes Wilmington a perfect place for Simpson’s passion project.

“I saw an opportunity to open kind of a smaller, more independent movie theater,” Simpson said. “Something that a film town could definitely use, but didn’t necessarily have.”

Simpson says he’s excited to see his vision come to life.

Ian Simpson starts an old film projector. (Spectrum News 1/Natalie Mooney)

“You can kind of see where a lot of things will go — we’ve got a couple framed bathrooms here, and we’ve got some of our vintage theater seats sitting around, some posters around,” Simpson said. “And we’re looking to make this a third place where people can, like I mentioned, meet up with their friends, see a good film, enjoy some beverages and tasty treats, snacks, popcorn, and you can see over here, we’ve got an old vintage popcorn machine.”

And that popcorn machine won’t be the only vintage thing in The Velvet Room.

“We’ve also got the speakeasy opening in the back of The Velvet Room where, you know, it has a 1920s speakeasy Prohibition-inspired theme,” Simpson said. “After films you can go to the back with your friends, go grab a drink there, and kind of enjoy an experience that you’re not really able to find anywhere else.”

Simpson started a crowdfunding campaign with a goal of $25,000. That money will go toward finishing the buildout, electric and plumbing work and new equipment. He says they raised $8,000 within the first week.

The Velvet Room is expected to be open within months. (Spectrum News 1/Natalie Mooney)

“The support we’ve gotten on social media and, you know, monetarily, and from people reaching out to help in any way they can has been incredible,” Simpson said. “You know we’ve got people who really want to see this happen and have the same vision as us as far as wanting to see, you know, a more independent and smaller movie theater.”

Simpson says The Velvet Room Cinema and Bar is on track to open within the next couple of months and by summer at the latest. The cinema will open five to seven days a week.

Simpson’s partner, Durret, says the speakeasy will be open just before the cinema and his newest venture, Sip N’ Chill, across the street is open now.

If you would like to donate to The Velvet Room’s crowdfunding campaign, click here.

The Velvet Room and Sip N’ Chill are on Castle Street in Wilmington.

Natalie Mooney

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